Underrated RB?


Workload, paycheck don't match

Fox By Ashley Fox

Pay the man. The phrase has become synonymous with one player in the NFL: Chicago Bears running back Matt Forte.

His $600,000 salary this season says "underrated," but Forte's peers know better. He just might be the most dangerous running back in the league right now.

Forte is a smart, shifty runner with great instincts and vision. He is a dangerous receiver out of the backfield. He is responsible for 46.2 percent of the Chicago Bears' offense. For the Bears, everything starts with Forte.

Forte, 25, a second-round draft pick out of Tulane in 2008, is in only his fourth season. He has never missed a start. He has topped 1,000 rushing yards in two of his first three seasons, including as a rookie. With 672 rushing yards in the first seven games this season  including against Green Bay, when he had just two yards on nine carries -- Forte is on pace for more than 1,500 yards, which would be a career high.

That says nothing about his receiving abilities. Forte is the Bears' leading receiver with 38 catches, 17 more than Devin Hester, who is in second on the team.

With a ridiculous 1,091 total yards, Forte is the first running back to eclipse 1,000 total yards in a season's first seven games since the New York Giants' Tiki Barber and the Kansas City Chiefs' Priest Holmes did so in 2004.

And did you see him carve up the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in London on that 32-yard touchdown run in the first quarter? It was second-and-1, and with great blocking from his linemen and the tight end, Forte ran through a huge hole, eluded a Bucs safety, cut inside and ran into the end zone.

This just in: Forte is underpaid, especially when you consider that his backup, Marion Barber, signed a two-year, $4.6 million contract to join the Bears in the preseason.

Is Forte good? No. Great? Yes. Not in the way of Adrian Peterson or the player who used to be Chris Johnson, but in the Forte way. He is like Brian Westbrook in his prime: A matchup nightmare for opposing defenses. Linebackers are too slow. Cornerbacks are too small.

To hear Forte's teammate, the esteemed Brian Urlacher, tell it, Forte is even more than great: "I think he's the best player in the NFL right now," Urlacher told the Chicago Sun-Times after Forte turned 27 touches into 183 yards against Tampa Bay.

In other words, pay the man.

Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

Overshadowed by Philly stars

Clayton By John Clayton

Backs such as Matt Forte are no longer under the radar. The controversy over his contract dispute with the Chicago Bears, along with him being the league's No. 3 rusher, ended his underrated status. He's rated and rated highly.

The same fortune hasn't embraced LeSean McCoy of the Philadelphia Eagles. In many ways, he's like Forte was last season. A year ago, Forte was a third-year runner ready to explode. McCoy is in his third season and has the same resume.

His nickname might be the most fitting for his situation as any in the NFL. At Pitt, he was called "Shady." In Philadelphia, he plays in the shadows of Eagles stars Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin. Forte might be the main force in Chicago. McCoy isn't drawing the headlines meriting his production. He's under the radar.

For one thing, no one talks about McCoy's contract. He's in the third year of his rookie deal. Nothing is in the works. He's makes $525,000 this year and is scheduled to make around $610,000 next year.

As for his performance, McCoy is one of the most exciting backs in the league and has been since he entered. The big thing is that he keeps getting better.

McCoy rushed for 637 yards and averaged 4.1 yards per carry as a rookie. Last year, he had 1,080 yards and a 5.2 yard average. Along with that, he caught 78 passes for 592 yards.

This season is clearly his best so far. In his six starts, he has 569 rushing yards and averages 5.4 yards an attempt. McCoy is electric when he plays on turf. Taking advantage of his quickness, McCoy averages 6.8 yards a carry on turf, 4.5 on grass.

Watching McCoy in college, I thought he was going to be a first-round back. He slipped to the second round and became a steal for the Eagles. He was perfect back to replace Brian Westbrook, who was the featured back and class act of the Eagles for many years.

To be an Eagles runner under Andy Reid, you have to have the ability to run the ball but accept that Reid uses short passes as part of what he considers a running offense. McCoy handles both jobs well. Westbrook was underrated most of his career, so McCoy is the perfect player to follow him.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.